Headlines from Canadian Tire Motorsport Park on Saturday:
1. Mystery surrounds future of sports car racing at CTMP
2. Graf leads all qualifyers for last ALMS race at Old Mosport
3. IndyCar’s Mike Conway says Indy cars too fast for CTMP
4. NOTES: One of Mosport’s legends dies
1. Will last ALMS race be last ‘big sports car race’ at CTMP?
It all started Friday, when racing journalist Marshall Pruett posted a column of opinion on the racer.com website in which he suggested that when the 2014 United SportsCar Racing schedule is released, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park won’t be on it.
As most racing fans know, the American Le Mans Series and the Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series will become the United SportsCar Series at the end of 2013. Fine and good. The problem, however, is that the total of 22 races being contested this season by both series is reportedly going to be shaved down to 12 next year.
(I have to write an aside here. When Grand Am bought the ALMS, many people thought it would be a total takeover. This proved not to be the case. With the exception of the P1 category in the ALMS (two teams this year), all entrants from both series will be able to compete in their usual classes in the new series for the next two years. A real effort was made to keep everybody happy. So why will this accommodation not extend to race tracks and promoters? Why will there be winners and losers when it comes to races? If NASCAR has 36 Cup races, and F1 has 19 or 20 races and IndyCar has 19 or 20, why will the one, major, sports car racing series not have more than a dozen races? It doesn’t make sense. But I digress . . .)
Pruett, in his article, pared down the races in a process of elimination. After you get the no-brainer races out of the way – Daytona, Sebring, Long Beach, Laguna Sega, Indianapolis, Detroit, Road Atlanta, etc. – there are very few holes left.
So at end of day, Pruett more-or-less said that Mosport wouldn’t make the cut.
ALMS PR people were fast off the mark on Friday to pooh-pooh Pruett’s prognostications. More than one said to not take the article seriously and pointed out that the CTMP race was the only one in Canada, was close to Toronto, which is one of the largest population areas on the continent, and that the manufacturers who compete in the series want it on the calendar.
But among the local newspaper and Internet reporters (CTMP really has to find a way to get more GTA radio and TV reporters to show up), the article resulted in a frenzy of guessing.
The Toronto Sun flat out reported that there would be a SportsCar race in 2014 (I call it that, by the way; the full name is too much of a mouthful and that one word describes the series perfectly anyway).
CTMP officials were quick to say that they haven’t been told anything officially and wouldn’t comment until they received word. Track co-owner Ron Fellows said that until someone tells him otherwise, he will stick with his position that it’s a 50-50 proposition.
One thing is fairly certain. The United SportsCar Series will tell its race tracks and promoters that they’re in or they’re out by the end of the month. Time is flying, and the end of July is rapidly approaching, so we won’t have too long to wait to find out.
2. Graf, Luhr shooting to win the last ALMS race at Mosport
Klaus Graf looked out at a sea of reporters following Saturday afternoon qualifying for Sunday’s ALMS Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix and said how much he enjoyed racing at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
No kidding. He’s won the last three ALMS races at the place and will be shooting for his fourth straight on Sunday afternoon, along with co-driver Lucas Luhr, who’s joined him in Victory Lane twice previously.
Graf and Luhr are such a potent combination co-driving an HPD ARX-03c that with the exception of the 12 Hours of Sebring they have yet to lose a race this season. Graf got the honours of trying for pole on Saturday afternoon and came through with a rocketing lap of one minute and 5.871 seconds.
The outright fastest lap qualifying record was set in 2008 by the now-retired Dindo Capello, who shocked just about everybody present that day by turning a lap of 1:04:094 in an Audi diesel - just a sliver under 140 miles an hour.
Graf was not far off that mark. His speed was 134.290 mph.
"You can’t afford to lose concentration at this place," Graf said. "I love it here but it can bite you if you’re not careful."
"Super-sub" Mike Conway, who finished seventh in both Honda Indy Toronto races last weekend, was pressed into emergency service with Level 5 Motorsports to fill in for regular driver Ryan Briscoe, who broke his wrist last Saturday in the first Honda Indy race, and delivered a spectacular qualifying effort.
Conway was second fastest qualifyer, and won the P2 pole, by driving his HPD ARX-03b around CTMP in 1:08:785 (128.697 mph). Said the British driver after the run: "I think we could have been even quicker, to be honest."
The GT pole was won by Jonathan Bomarito, who piloted an SRJ Viper V10 to a time of 1:15:462 (117:309 mph). In GT Challenge, Jeroen Bleekemolen put his Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car on pole with a time of 1:21:310 (108:872 mph).
Now, there were two pretty serious crashes during qualifying. The drivers involved escaped injury but one crash had an effect on starting positions.
The first crash, by Jan Magnussen in a Corvette, ended the GT qualifying session. Magnussen was trying to wrestle the pole away from Bomarito and lost control, going off track and slamming into tire barriers. He did some serious damage to the race car.
The other crash involved Prototype Challenge points leader Mike Guasch, who lost control of his Oreca FLM09 and hit the tire wall at virtually the same place as Magnussen.
Now, because the accident brought a halt to the session before 10 minutes had elapsed, points leader Guasch will start first in class on Sunday instead of Colin Braun, the guy who turned the fastest lap before the red flag flew.
If professional sports car racing wants to succeed in the highly competitive sports entertainment industry in North America, it’s going to have to get rid of club racing mentality such as this. This is a rule for the drivers, not the spectators or the TV audience, and is nonsense. How can a guy who crashed and brought an end to the session wind up the winner?
3. Indy cars at CTMP would be awesome, Conway says
Mike Conway, who won an IndyCar series race at Detroit in June and finished third in the second Motown race and then went on to finish seventh in both Honda Indy Toronto races last weekend, reckons the Indy cars would put on an awesome show at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park but doubts it will ever happen.
"I think the Indy cars, with their horsepower and ground effects, would be terribly fast and that’s why I don’t think it would be wise for them to race here," he said during an interview before practice and qualifying Saturday.
"In these cars (he’s driving an HPD LMP2 this weekend), it’s very fast and it would be that much faster again in an Indy car. The corners come at you quickly now and they’d come at you even faster.
"I think they’d be awesome here," he said, "but I think it’s unlikely it’ll happen."
Bobby Unser, who won the first Indy car race at Old Mosport back in 1967, returned a few years ago to be Grand Marshal of the ALMS race and said that with the improvements that have been made since his day, the location would be perfect for an Indy car race.
"Bring ‘em back," he’d said at the time. "The track is wider and the ambiance is incredible. I don’t think you’d be in competition with the Toronto race because I think they’d cater to two different audiences."
Conway, who’s filling in for the injured Ryan Briscoe, was not far off the pole time and speed of Klaus Graf on Saturday and said afterward that he thought he could have gone faster than the 1:08:785 (128.697 mph) he turned in. "I wanted to do more laps, to be honest," he said afterward.
Conway is 29 and had started racing in karts when he was a child. He progressed to Formula Renault and British Formula 3 International (he won championships in both) and had a crack at the European GP2 championship before heading to IndyCar.
Conway refuses to race on ovals and so can’t land a full-season ride in the IndyCar series and can’t run for the championship. This was the result of two nasty wrecks (one, a horrid end-of-race accident in the 2010 Indianapolis 500 in which he was badly injured) and the death in 2011 of Dan Wheldon on the oval at Las Vegas Speedway.
"No, I haven’t changed my mind," he told me in our interview. "That sort of racing isn’t for me. I don’t like it so I won’t do it."
He said the adjustment from the Indy cars a week ago to the LMP2 car at Old Mosport this weekend had been relatively easy and he quite enjoys driving the circuit.
He’s open to offers for more sports car races – prediction: if he keeps opening eyes like he did in qualifying Saturday, he’ll be fielding inquiries – as well as more in the IndyCar series.
"I’m confirmed for the two races at Houston," he said, "but nothing beyond that. I’m available, though, if there are opportunities at other road or street-course races."
4. NOTES: Lawrence (Laurie) Clennet – long time start/finish flagger at Old Mosport, died this week. . . . Canadians in the ALMS race: Tony Burgess of Toronto starts second in P1 behind Graf and Kyle Marcelli of Barrie will go off 12th (fifth in class) in Prototype Challenge. Kuno Wittmer of Montreal will start 15th (first in class) in GT. . . . This from the News Bureau at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park: In the U.S. based IMSA GT3 Cup, Madison Snow won the 33-lap race after starting from the pole. The Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada held it’s first of two races this weekend. Pfaff Motorsports driver Chris Green won in Platinum Cup, and Carlos de Quesada was the winner in Gold Cup. The Cooper Tires Prototype Lites also held their first of two weekend races. Sean Rayhall finished seconds ahead. Spencer Pigot was the winner in the Pro Mazda Championship race.
Sunday's schedule has two two races in the morning (the Cooper Tires Prototype Lites and GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Michelin) beginning at 8 a.m. The ALMS Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix will get under way at noon and will be followed by races in the IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge, Pro Mazda Championship and the Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup.
Reminder: the ALMS race STARTS at noon.
That’s 12 p.m. Don’t be late
- NORRIS McDONALD